This post is a challenge to write. I have been thinking about it and I have come to the conclusion that these are my choices:
- Gloss over the less flattering parts and only share anecdotes that make me look good, ignoring the things I don’t want other people to know in favor of how I like to think of myself as a person and a parent.
- Take an “off day” and skip posting. After all, I am the one who gave myself the assignment of three weeks of daily chronicling. I could change the rules at any point.
- Tell a version of the truth with a positive spin on it.
- Tell the truth.
I think I have to tell the truth. There’s no guarantee this blog will ever take off; there’s no guarantee anyone will even read this post. The only thing that is certain is that I am the parent of these kids and, at this moment, I am not doing the job I’d like to think I am doing (or would like other people to think I am doing).
Painting a falsely idealized version of my reality serves nobody—not me as a person, a parent, or an aspiring writer; not my family; and not my readers. On the other hand, sticking to my commitment to honesty, even when uncomfortable, might help me be a better person in the long shot.
So, here’s what happened yesterday: I did a lousy job for most of the day. I used way too much screen time. I yelled at the kids, sent them to their rooms, left them unsupervised. I reneged on my promise to them to take them to the beach. I delayed even leaving the house until mid afternoon, when traffic starts getting bad. (Rush “hour” lasts half the day around here.)
How did this happen? Well, I could make lots of excuses for myself. We have no childcare and I’m trying to start this blog. I didn’t get to write over the weekend, so I stole my writing time from my children by letting their brains ooze out of their ears in front of the computer, keeping them trapped indoors until well after lunchtime.
I could see this as the exception to the rule. I am a great mom, right? I do creative things. We are active! We have fun! Life is beautiful! But then, a close examination of the past week reveals this:
Wednesday: Travel Day, kids had unlimited screen time access on our four-hour flight while I read a book. It’s a travel day—who’s going to judge me for that?
Thursday: Lazy Day, home in the house, kids didn’t have much screen time (30 min for Milo, none for other boys), but we didn’t do anything at all other than an hour walk in the late afternoon. It’s the day after a travel day, who’s going to judge me for that? A little summer boredom is good for a kid, right?
Friday: A Wonderful, Magical, Exceptional Day! We had stories and beautiful views and collected wild turkey feathers to use as quills, for goodness sake. I was loving and patient and proud of myself and of my kids. THIS IS WHO I AM… right? (Sure, we had 100 minutes of screen time for everyone, but that was because we had our weekly Family Movie Night, which can be categorized under: Good Things for Children.)
Saturday: A Good Enough Day. We took a bike ride, had a picnic. I wasn’t quite as patient as I hope to be, but I cut myself some slack, still basking in the glow of Friday’s success. Kids got 50 minutes of screen time. But it was educational screen time. That’s better, right?
Sunday: A Day of Gluttony. Junk food, too much screen time. But “Yes Day” is a special once in a while occurrence. It doesn’t count as a regular day, right?
And then we come to Monday and I have to see that there is really no excuse for not getting out the door and having an active day. There is no excuse for not living up to the goals I set for myself for this summer. I have been telling myself that I limit the kids’ weekly screen time to an average of 30 minutes a day, and yet in the first six days of this week, they spent a cumulative 840 minutes in front of screens. That’s an average of 140 minutes a day. And, for the most part, it wasn’t 140 minutes interspersed with highly enriching experiences. It was 140 minutes interspersed with being ignored.
I am reporting the truth; my goal is neither to elicit scrutiny nor sympathy. My goal is to take honest accountability for my actions and improve from there.
Day 5, Mon, July 21
Money Spent: $35 at Safeway for toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, parmesan cheese, and yogurt. It was a funny collection of items on the belt at checkout. It looked like we were going to eat some dairy products and then clean our teeth really, really thoroughly.
Miles Driven: 30… only 17 of these miles were necessary driving for our outing. The remaining were due to my error of a wrong turn. This happens more often than I’d like to admit.
Quantity/Quality of Exercise: Good
Toll on House/Yard: High
Screen Time: Too much.
Scheduled, over-, under-, or just right?: Under-scheduled
Activities/Outings: Point Isabel
I had not gotten a chance to write or post over the weekend, so I got up early to write before the family got up. The problem was, Milo woke up when I did. So, even though he had had a ton of screen time the day before– and even though it is my professed goal to limit his screen exposure to an average of 30 minutes a day or less– I stuck him in front of the computer to play Starfall. Then the other kids got up and joined him. Finally, even though I wasn’t done writing, I cut them off and fed them breakfast and read to them a little bit.
Okay, whatever, that’s not so bad. I can own that.
However, it was my choices after breakfast that I am embarrassed to admit. Instead of dressing them and getting them out the door to the beach, as I had promised we would do for days prior, I let them go back to screen time after breakfast. And when they asked for more, I barely looked up from my computer to give my assent.
I finally cut them off at some point, but I was having trouble with one of the plugins on my blog, so I told them to “just go play”. I gave them no direction and no assistance, only told them they couldn’t go outdoors because the roadwork near our house is filling the air with noxious dust. I found them sitting on top of the upright piano, watching the roadwork out the window. And then I yelled at them for being up there and sent them to their rooms.
Here is the awful realization I came to as they headed upstairs: Not only am I not as good a parent as I want to be, but judging by my documentation of the past week, I am not even as good as I think I am. I want to be creative, engaged, loving, active, patient. I want to limit screen time in our household– not because I believe that any amount of screen time is inherently detrimental to the raising of fully functioning members of society, but because when my kids are still and quiet, I find it incredibly hard to pull the plug. My screen time rules are to protect me from my own tendency toward procrastination, so I don’t waste my own precious years of motherhood letting the kids sit in front of screens instead of doing the stuff that makes us happy together.
Here’s where the day began to turn the corner: I went upstairs and apologized to the kids. I told them I was not doing a good job parenting them and that I was being unfair. We sat down to a lunch of Quorn nuggets (a vegetarian alternative to chicken nuggets) with sides of rice, peas, and arugula (which I get the kids to eat by calling it by its more exciting name: “rocket”). While the kids ate, I read Rascal to them. They love the idea of 11-year-old Sterling North living without rules, caring for his many wild pets, including Rascal the Raccoon. (The fact that he is so free because his mother is dead and his father is permissive and often absent does not bother them in the slightest.)
It was too late in the day to get to the beach I was planning to take them to, so we tried a new place: Point Isabel. Richmond’s Point Isabel is one of the largest off leash dog parks in the country. It is 23 acres of coastal land, visited by over 500,000 dogs a year. I was a little wary of taking on this outing. As a former dog trainer, I know that dog parks can bring out some of the worst behavior in dogs and that it is often inadvisable to bring young children into a dog park, but everything I read made Point Isabel sound pretty amazing, populated by friendly dogs and responsible owners. I decided we would give it a cautious first go.
It was amazing. I have never, ever seen so many well-behaved, well-socialized dogs with such responsible and attentive owners. Floyd met more dogs than he has thus far in his entire six months of life (I stopped counting after 100) and all of the interactions were friendly, waggy, casual affairs. We hiked for two hours and only saw one dog poop which had not been picked up.
It was the most redeeming part of my day. I hope things will only get better from here.